Rachel Reeg, the first patient to undergo the MitraClip heart valve repair procedure at St. Anthony's Heart & Vascular Institute, felt the improvements just a few days after undergoing the procedure.
Rachelle Reeg is happiest when she’s helping others. A retired schoolteacher and principal, she works to preserve and restore historic buildings with Questers International, and she strives to empower women through her service with the Zonta Club of St. Louis. She also is a member of the Board of Managers of the Carondelet YMCA and a co-founder of the Carondelet Y Service Club.
Recently, though, the 82-year-old Affton resident found herself hampered by heart trouble. Rachelle would become breathless after walking distances and had difficulty walking and talking at the same time. While in bed, she would feel chest pressure that required her to sit up. She was diagnosed with mitral regurgitation, also known as mitral insufficiency, due to a severe leak in her mitral heart valve.
“I walked the hall today and I was not breathless,” observed Rachelle, five days after she underwent the procedure. “I’ve not had the pressure I had in the past. And I would get swelling in my ankles –today, they are comfortable. Who knew I had ankles?”
“It is common for people to have some leak of the valve. As cardiologists, we worry about the more severe leaks. We use a number scale, with one being a mild leak and four being a severe leak. Those people with a leak graded three or four are of the most concern.”
Rachelle’s leak was graded four. A severe leak causes the heart to work much harder and raises the risk of irregular heartbeat, stroke and heart failure. Repair options include open-heart surgery to repair the valve; the MitraClip procedure; or medication alone, Dr. Dobmeyer said. For older patients such as Rachelle, who are felt to be at higher risk during open-heart surgery, he recommends the MitraClip procedure.
“In the past, we had no options for these patients except medication, which does not do well in the long run,” Dr. Dobmeyer said. “Studies have shown that patients who have this procedure do very well and have better heart function, less heart failure and feel better. In Mrs. Reeg’s case, her leak went from four out of four to zero out of four, no leak whatsoever, with one clip. Her prognosis is excellent.”
Rachelle hopes her experience will help others get the care they need.
“I was with a group of St. Anthony’s doctors, including my primary care physician, Dana Galbraith, M.D.
, who referred me here,” Rachelle said. “Immediately, they did preliminary work and then presented this opportunity. I’ve had nothing but wonderful care here.”
The complex procedure requires the work of no fewer than four physicians, Dr. Dobmeyer said. These include a cardiac anesthesiologist who puts the patient to sleep and monitors them during the procedure; a cardiologist who specializes in cardiac ultrasound to image the patient’s heart and guide the clip’s placement to the precise location; and two doctors who perform the clip procedure, usually a cardiac surgeon and a cardiologist who specializes in catheter-based cardiac procedures.
“Without close cooperation and interaction between the physicians, nurses and hospital staff, doing these procedures is impossible,” Dr. Dobmeyer said. “Debby Kaestner, R.N., Valve Clinic Coordinator, is probably the most important member of the team, as she is responsible for guiding the patients through what is a complex process.”
Not all patients with mitral insufficiency qualify for the procedure, Dr. Dobmeyer said. To learn more about the MitraClip procedure, call (314) 880-6644.
The nurses were outstanding, especially Debby Kaestner and Nina Moehlenhoff, R.N., Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, Rachelle said.
“When you get to this point in your life, you want to live as long as you can,” she explained. “And you want to live well – you still want to be able to get in your car and drive, and do other things. If you can take care of something like this short-term, for somebody even ten years younger than I am, that would still be a good move.”